Research Assignment: Why Were Ricketts and Griffin on Henry Hill?

24 07 2015
"The Capture of Rickett's Battery" by Sidney King, 1964 (oil on plywood). On display in the Henry Hill Visitor Center at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

“The Capture of Rickett’s Battery” by Sidney King, 1964 (oil on plywood). On display in the Henry Hill Visitor Center at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

This will either be fun, or go over like a lead balloon. As you may or may not know, one of the things I find most interesting in researching the First Battle of Bull Run is the fact that contemporary documents do not always support the contentions – statements of fact, even – of historians of the battle. The other day, friend and artillery guy Craig Swain and I were discussing the move of Ricketts’s and Griffin’s batteries from their positions north of the pike to Henry Hill. This move has often been criticized over the years, sometimes even described as a turning point of the battle. But, why exactly did McDowell send his artillery there? What was he thinking? How did he want to uses them, as flying artillery, in place of infantry, as what?

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to take a look at the evidence. Were written orders issued? What did the actors say about the move later? What have historians said? I’ll even help you out. Below are the reports and testimonies of the four individuals who may or may not have known. Read them over. Look for the why. Check what they presented against what historians have written (you’ll have to use your own resources there.) How have the historians substantiated their assertions? Discuss in the comments section.

BG Irvin McDowell, who issued the order (Reports and Correspondence #1, and #2, and JCCW testimony #1, and #2.)

Maj. W. F. Barry, to whom McDowell issued the order, and who forwarded it to the battery commanders (Report, JCCW testimony)

Capt. Charles Griffin (Report, JCCW testimony)

Capt. James Ricketts (Report, JCCW testimony)

 

 


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12 responses

24 07 2015
Bull Runnings Research Assignment: Why Were Ricketts and Griffin on Henry Hill? | To the Sound of the Guns

[…] The question in mind is exactly what were Captains James Ricketts and Charles Griffin supposed to do…?  As Harry says: […]

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24 07 2015
cwbattlemapart

Ricketts and Griffin both knew the dangers of unsupported artillery but that never seems to stop an officer with a heady opinion of himself ( Now Chief of Artillery) to say those are my orders as commanded by Gen McDowell….”I will send you the support you need”. Barry threw the Artillery Bible away that day with dreams of glory and the Confederates withdrawl before them. The papers were rife as indicated in reports as to the prowess of the fighting ability of the NY Fire Zouaves. We see that in the remarks of the Confederates who go seeking to see or meet one after the battle. “Flying Batteries” was a phrase tossed about prior to the battle and the tales of the exploits of many of the both sides leadership in the Mexican War. Bottom line is they went as ordered and paid the ultimate price of bad leadership.

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24 07 2015
Harry Smeltzer

Hi Brian,

Well, we really don’t know that. Unless we know why they were sent there. Do you know why they were sent there (and all indications are it was McDowell, not Barry, who ordered the move), and, if so, how do you know? That’s the whole point of this exercise.

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24 07 2015
cwbattlemapart

I wasn’t there either so I truly cannot say, even having read the reports….. The fact that Ricketts and Griffin’s batteries had moved forward and changed position 2-3 times in pursuit of a retreating foe… Then McDowell’s general orders to his commanders was most likely to stay in pursuit…. the next spot to take command of would be the hill when the rebel guns ( Imboden’s ) guns and signs of Rebel Infantry disappeared from Barry’s view. 20 / 20 hindsight is always a clearer vision . Barry’s reply while questioned by Griffin was more like Ooops! My bad.
This is what happens when a conference call for weekend work scheduled for 10:30 am has still yet to happen on a Friday afternoon.
:) thanks for letting me play if only passionately.
B

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24 07 2015
Craig Swain

So… provide us a citation from the official pre-war Field Artillery manual as to how this “flying artillery” was supposed to be used…..

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24 07 2015
cwbattlemapart

I don’t have Andersons pre-war manual in front of me at the moment but I know that there was never a mention of “F-A” so my reply will be more one that is inspired by some of the witty headline writers that exist today as seen on the cover of the NY Post or NY Daily News. Now this may be a total line of bs.. but let’s say a reporter was present at a Field Artillery Demonstration in Pre-war America..a coined term like Flying Artillery would come to mind as the horses galloped forward to stir the hearts and imaginations of the youth to rally to the flag of their choice. Same way the bloodless lithographs of by-gone battles would cause a young boy to think that war was all glory and no pain. Other than that I got Nuthin!

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25 07 2015
John Foskett

The relevant manual may have been Ringgold’s 1845 manual (since he was the so-called “:Father of the FA” and gained fame for the tactic at Palo Alto). Of course, his manual says little about actual tactics. Given that even McDowell’s order to Barry is apparently only sourced in the Report of the JCCW, confirming McDowell’s intent looks like a n uphill research effort.

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25 07 2015
Harry Smeltzer

Sure does. Yet many folks have no problem stating as fact the purpose of the redeployment. First Bull Run historiography is rife with this kind of stuff. RIFE, I tell ya!

As an aside, Ringgold also gained something else at Palo Alto, IIRC wounds to both thighs which resulted in his death.

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25 07 2015
John Foskett

True about Ringgold and his wounds. I think he survived 3-4 days. Somebody needs to do a bio on McDowell anyway. :)

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25 07 2015
Harry Smeltzer

A McDowell bio is problematic, since his “papers” have been lost. I tend to think that they’re out there somewhere, as R. M. Johnston said access was denied, not that they did not exist. They’re somewhere.

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24 07 2015
Judi

Hi Harry, I’ve done a lot of reading (primary sources) on this, and here’s what I think happened. By the time McDowell issued orders to Ricketts and Griffin, he’d had a chance to see how his army of volunteers performed in the field and under fire, and he was not feeling terribly optimistic. Yes, they had forced the Confederates to retreat (to Henry Hill), but now that he needed them on the offensive, he wasn’t sure if they were up to it. He turned to his experienced artillerymen to provide an anchor for the assault. Unfortunately, supports for the batteries took too long to get up, and he did not expect to find Jackson lurking up there, which made all the difference. I have no hard evidence for this theory, but there it is.

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24 07 2015
Harry Smeltzer

The lack of evidence is the whole point. Did he expect Jackson’s infantry, specifically? I doubt it, but keep in mind he was convinced he was going into this at a numerical disadvantage, and had to have been aware of the limited number of enemy infantry he had thus far encountered. You’re thinking he was using the artillery to proceed in advance of an infantry attack, but we’d need to see some evidence of this, somewhere, to state it clearly.

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